Sooooooooo yeah, I started writing my contributions for Tales of the RED this week, and I was so happy about it I wrote a song. Not sure what I’m going to do with it; me and tech is a little wonky, at least at the moment, and I need to pay attention to my deadlines. Anyway, that moment of joy inspired me to write about music today and how much I love rediscovering this beautiful art form. This was going to be that bubbly, happy post when I realized that yeah, oh shit, I guess technically there is a writing-or-life-or-both lesson somewhere in that mess.
And it is a mess.
Though I’ve been singing nonstop the past few days, my relationship with music has absolutely been a relationship, with all its ups and downs. I showed a musical talent early on and played a couple of songs from The Muppet Show by ear. My piano teacher was a lovely woman from the Philippines whose house I will always remember as warm, red, and full of treats. Now, nostalgia being what it is? I don’t know if that’s technically the case or not. But that is how I remember her. Warm. Red. Full of life. I remember the smell of staff paper and freshly-sharpened pencils, the Jolly Rancher candies she’d share, the decorated eggs she’d displayed on a small table, the turquoise-yellow-and-white painted fan she gave me. I also remember the discipline she instilled in me, the drive to finish what I start.
I learned to play piano using the Suzuki method. Classically-trained, improvisation was challenging for me—in part, because there were so many drills involved, my brain could never ad lib classical. Every piano kid has their favorite, but Mozart was “my” composer. I memorized dozens of sonatas and sonatinas every year, performed at school, in churches, recitals, concert halls, even shopping malls. But by the time I reached 14 or 15, it was hard to perceive a future where I’d move to LA or NYC and study/play professionally (for reasons I can’t and won’t get into). I ended up switching teachers and added jazz, which is not my preferred genre but did challenge me in its own way, and modern classical. Some voice, too, even though I never fully embraced “my” voice. And flute, which is not really my thing, either, but was for a little while.
I used my musical skills a little bit in college; accompanying some, practicing some, etc. but by that point I’d abandoned the “dream” of figuring out where music fit. I had problems with my wrists—so much so that I wound up developing carpal tunnel in both of them—and eventually gave up after a while. Then, years later, not realizing anxiety had taken root, I turned to rock-n-roll. I stood in at practice a couple of times. I wrote my own lyrics (lost in some move). I even auditioned and was in a couple of rock operas for a few years. Still, a bit too “stiff”, a bit too “formal”—all the elements that come from being classically trained and practicing daily for many, many years. Memorable experiences, absolutely, but I view them from a more critical lens because of my background.
After that? I subconsciously developed a fear of music because... Well, my music is tied to my grief. Add to that how easy it is to lose muscle strength; Years out of practice, I couldn’t play cross-handed, blindfolded, and backwards anymore—yes, just like Tom Hulce did in Amadeus, and yes, for a long time I was just as cocky about it as he was. Oh, don’t worry. I’m well past beating myself up over shit. I just don’t have that kind of time.
Anyway… I stopped singing, playing, even appreciating this art form because I rationalized I had “nowhere to go”. It was too late. There was no career path. No point.
Eventually, I learned that was the lesson. The creative journey I’m taking now is not to carve out this piece of myself, dissect it, hone it, throw it out there, hope for rain. Sometimes, a journey isn’t about a milestone marked by values or goals or followers or even money. Sometimes, the gifts we have are so integral to who we are, as people, that they’re a part of who we are, and not embracing them causes us to be disconnected in some way.
So yeah, this story does have a happy-to-me ending. I started including music in my life again during the pandemic. Absolutely thrilled to do so, too. Am I going to do anything with it? Collaborate again? I have no idea. And that’s okay. But it’s also enough.